Accentuate the positive

Rumor has it that I’m the critical type,* so you might guess that I’d turn my nose up at the announcement that BuzzFeed’s new books page will only post positive reviews.

But I’ve gotta be honest: wasting a lot of time working to discourage other people from liking what they like just isn’t my thing.  Maybe that’s why I work in a job that’s all about telling people about new things they should love.  Years after seeing a presentation by Tumblr creator David Karp, I still use as an example of creative genius that Tumblr was created without comments so that anyone who wants to add their two cents has to reblog—essentially putting their sentiments onto the page they own, which forces people to consider whether they want to be known by their vitriol.  It’s a brilliant way around the problem that the internet is a toxic cesspit of anonymous rage, but it’s also a goal I can get behind.

I love a clever piece of writing as much as the next person, but reviewers who endeavor to destroy what they’ve read (or seen or heard or eaten) with the might of their pen just irk me.  I never fall in love with the angry reviews that make the rounds, and I’m not sure I see the point in excoriating a thing that people worked hard to create.  (Sure, they didn’t always work hard, but there’s only so much joy in taking down an easy target.)  I mean, I’ve been known to bitch when something gets tons of praise heaped upon it that seems to miss every flaw that I found glaring (I’m looking at you, film adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook), but I’ve only ever looked at negative reviews when I’m looking to confirm that it is right and just for me to dislike a thing I already dislike.

Criticism is an art form, and I think negative critiques have their place, but to me it’s more of an academic need than a practical one.  One of the reasons I don’t really read reviews is that I’m not terribly interested in what people who hate things have to say about them.  I’ve never read a bad review and thought, “Oh, okay, I can skip that,” because it so often seems like the reviewer, be they a highly regarded professional or a person on Goodreads, has an axe to grind.  Fortunately, for people like me, there’s BuzzFeed, and for anyone who wants an aggressive critique rather than simply an opportunity to find something new to check out there’s virtually the entirety of Kirkus and a certain someone at the New York Times.



*I prefer to think of myself as intellectually thorough.

5 Responses to Accentuate the positive

  1. Karen says:

    There’s the reviewer who has to review because they are paid to do so. Most major newspaper/magazine reviewers fall into this category. They review a lot of books. A story has to stand out before they even notice it. More importantly, they also have to review a lot of books they wouldn’t read for pleasure. Books they don’t like before they even start. It seems to me these reviewers become jaded. They’ve lost the magic that brought them to books in the first place.

    Then there’s the reviewer who gets to choose the books they review. Some paid reviewers fall into this category, but the bulk of them are amateurs. I’m including Amazon and Goodreads and a good many book review blogs here. (Isaac Fitgerald, the new book reviewer for BuzzFeed, sounds as if he will be one of these.) And yes, some of these reviewers are angry and vitriolic, but the bulk of them are honest assessments of a person’s reaction to the story.

    Personally, I ignore the first type of reviewer altogether. They don’t add value for me.

    As for the second, most readers eventually get a stable of reviewers they trust, and ignore the rest.

    That said, I like to see bad reviews.

    We don’t all like the same books, thus almost any book should get some bad reviews. If it doesn’t, I wonder why. Has the author paid for the reviews? Or asked their friends to review them? Why does everyone like it? My first instinct, through personal experience, is that the reviewing pool is skewed in some way, and that no ‘real’ readers have actually read the story.

    Bad reviews can also be good. If the reviews are skewed heavily positive but also have a high number of extremely poor reviews with only a scattering in between it’s often a sign of controversial content rather than a bad book.

    By publishing only positive reviews you’re only showing half the story.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Intellectual awesome-sauce! That’s all.

  3. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I think reviews are useful for people who want to know what they’ll be spending their money on, but they don’t have a lot of effect on the public in general; you can’t walk through any bestseller list without putting your foot in a few lowest common denominator frito pies like the Duck Commander Devotional, although there’s a lot of Target shoppers who’ll swear it changed their lives. Don’t you wish you’d opted this classic while you’d had the chance?

  4. D. C. DaCosta says:

    It seems to me that the purpose of a review is to a) encourage people to buy a good book, and b) warn people away from a bad book.

    Truth is truth. If your book is garbage, someone needs to call you on it.

    Limiting to favorable reviews only is a cop-out on the part of the publisher, who is too greedy, lazy, or incompetent to send the book back for rewrites — or to reject it completely.

  5. Hillsy says:

    There’s a caveat in all this for me…..I think if you are an amateur reviewer (a hobbiest who like to throw out into the world an opinion on what they’ve just read) – this isn’t a bad policy. That person may speak perfect sense, 100% of the time, but unfortunately is largely indistinguishable from someone who is less…..competent, shall we say.

    I, for example, just can’t get on with YA books. I wouldn’t write a particualry glowing review of Harry Potter. But then I don’t get paid to learn the intricacies of things I don’t like and look past my gut reaction to a book to make an unbiased analysis. I’m unlikely to spend any time arguing for the merit behind my reasons for disliking something. I may have some subconscious ideas, but as someone said above I’m going to spend my energies looking for books I’ll enjoy.

    So as you can see I disagree fundamentally with the first commentor, in that I put more faith in a professional review making a personal echo chamber out of the much larger echo chamber of the internet.

    That said, I do think there’s solid value in having like minds who can direct you to gaps in your mutual experiences. Dave likes A and B, I like A so I should like B. However, if you’re seeking a reflection of your own mind back from the net, I will posit you ain’t that bothered about good or bad reviews anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>